Me: You are going to need to use some of this time to learn to adult.
Mary: I can totally adult.
Me: You broke the dishwasher three times.
Me: You used it unsupervised … Exactly. Three. Times.
Mary: Adding dish soap is not breaking it.
Me: Fine. You broke the dishwasher twice, and you flooded the kitchen once.
Mary: There ‘ya go.
Last spring the children were wandering the neighborhood when they came across some dudes working on a house under whose decrepit porch they had discovered a litter of feral kittens. Naturally, the children asked in their politest voices for those dudes to get off their asses, dive back under that porch, and fetch them a kitten.
Being nice, sensible dudes, they agreed to keep an eye out for a kitten, but said the children would need to get their mother’s permission to bring one home.
I want to tell you it was a big argument, but I was like, “A kitten? Awwww!”
“How are we going to find those guys and tell them you said we could have one?” the kids asked.
“I’ll put out the bat signal,” I said.
A couple of years ago, I was standing in Trader Joe’s with all the other moms selecting lettuce after drop-off, when it occurred to me there was just something … out of place about all of us. In the same way. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it … and then I did.
“We all look like we’re going to go out for a horseback ride!” I said.
Because every blessed last one of us was wearing tall leather boots over straight leggings.
“Seriously, like grab the riced cauliflower and the bridle and we’re off.”
If it had been possible to unlaugh — to suck in my laugh and spit it back out at me — that smattering of women in the veggie aisle would have collectively done it.
Yesterday I was back in the grocery store, following the taped lines marking six foot spaces. We were all marching along with our baskets, wearing masks — shiny ones and paper ones, cloth ones and plastic ones. Masks with big filters! Mask with no filters. Everywhere masks!
“Jesus,” I said, “We look like we’re about to rob a bank.”
This time, everyone laughed.
Mary: I’m going to teach Eden Spanish. Will that count? As adulting? Helping out?
Mary: Wait, why?
Me: Because I know you.
Mary: Eden! I’m teaching you Spanish! How about that! For homeschool!
Eden: What do you get out of it?
(Eden and I level Mary with a long, hard stare.)
Mary: If I teach you, I don’t have to do online Spanish class.
Me (to Eden): Don’t take less than 50 bucks.
Sure enough, the dudes came through, and delivered to us one raving, spitting, hissing little black kitten the size of a hamster.
She was so cute, you know, when she wasn’t trying to rip your face off.
Eden named her Blossom. “‘Sommy,” for short. This is what we experts call “literary dissonance;” or “bullshit sarcasm.”
That was last spring.
She’s a grown up cat now, much less eager to kill us, and pretty excited to go outdoors. I believe in outdoor cats, the kind that frolic and leap, and sun themselves on the garden path and walk the children down the block. But, I was worried that if we let her go outside, she’d go back to the feral house and they’d sing “Consider Yourself” in cockney accents and that would be the end of that.
Still, I had her spayed and vaccinated, and after her two weeks were up, furtively let her outside.
She instantly disappeared.
That afternoon, I caught sight of her, hanging out with all the neighborhood bad cats, all chill, like she didn’t know me, just licking her paw and wiping her face like I wasn’t even there.
It was my first time ever being an embarrassment to my teenaged … cat.
I filmed this from my bedroom. My second story bedroom.
Me: Did you get the light bulb changed in the bathroom?
Mary: I can’t. I swear to God I can’t get the cover off.
Me: How fast do you think I can get that cover off?
Mary: I think you’re asking me to do it because you don’t know how.
Me: Nice try.
Her: Why do we even need light? You people are making your own problems. I’m okay with taking a shit in the dark. There. Adulting. Solved.
Mary: Okay, but wouldn’t it be a little funny if all of America’s politicians dropped dead of Coronavirus?
Me: There’s an apocalyptic scenario I had not considered.
Mary: Pete Buttigieg and Paul Ryan can be the sole survivors who fight for the Iron Throne.
Me: Still can’t quite manage that light fixture, huh?
Mary: (THIS PORTION CENSORED)
I’ve taken to leaving the bedroom window open. The breeze is gorgeous, and I find it amusing when ‘Sommy wanders in off the roof.
This afternoon, I was typing away when she did exactly that, at rather a quick pace.
“Hi, ‘Sommy — HOLY SHIT!” I slammed the window shut just in time to really piss off the large tabby tomcat just a few inches behind her.
Did not see that one coming.
Throughout the day, I jot down funny things to tell Dad when I call him. Just like I used to with his mother.
He’s not a fan of the Ryan/Buttigieg scenario, is unsure his eldest granddaughter will ever function in the real world and thinks I should probably start making it a habit to shut my bedroom window.
“You sound good, Dad,” I tell him. He’s coughing lots. But he has been for a while. COPD. And a heart problem.
“They think they can hold it off six months,” he says. He is referring to the quarantine in his living facility.
When Gran goes out to do the shopping, they have her scrub her hands and arms when she returns. They wipe down her groceries, and then they check her temperature before they let her in the building.
That Grand Man has been in the apartment for four weeks. I think how he’s like the animals we’ve always collected, the bunnies, the raccoons, the cats … turtles in the bathtub, and wounded birds in a box under a lamp.
Dad and I always loved most — admired — the ones that never were never fully tame. They are the legends in our shared lifetime, those beloved creatures that never surrendered their wildness, their wickedness, their ability to wreak havoc.
I know he wants out of that apartment, and I respect him, love him, admire him for it. And for sitting tight like he’s goddamn supposed to.
“If it gets in here, it’ll wipe us out,” he says through a rattly breath. “Like it did to that place in Washington. It’ll be maybe six months until there’s a vaccine.”
“Could be earlier than that, Dad.”
We ache in silence.
“Old man,” I say. “You set foot outside that apartment I know three little girls who will beat the shit out of you before the virus gets a chance.”
I am rewarded with a belly laugh, for the shared creatures of our lifetime who will never be tamed.
“What’s your favorite time of day?”
A social media quarantine questionnaire. I’m trying to think of an amusing response. “After we’ve cried over math, before we’ve watched Dance Moms.” “That millisecond before everyone in the house simultaneously goes subnuclear because we’re out of Oreos.”
But it’s not hard, really, to know my favorite time. It just doesn’t help to say it out loud.
My favorite time is at night. When I’ve fed, cleaned, cheered, joked, disciplined, taught, picked up, put down, nurtured, corrected, and walked myself through another day. When the children are tucked in, tummies full, safe in their dreams, and I get to pull my covers up, the dog curled behind my knees, my laptop on a pillow, playing some movie, some godforsaken something that reminds me of nothing, and lets me live briefly in the time Before, with faith in the Time After to come. At last, there is no young face gazing at my increasingly aging one, as the terror and the sadness ride in on waves.
What if in this version the good guy doesn’t win, the sun doesn’t make its way around the planet and back to us, we are never the old-timers telling people about how those days in quarantine taught us gratitude …because in the end they taught us nothing but despair and loss?
My parents live on the ground level, with a patio that leads out to a grassy area.
Gran printed out lyric sheets, slipped them under their neighbor’s doors. As I am in darkness in Massachusetts, dusk comes to them, settles into the Colorado grasses. My parents and their neighbors open their doors to the cool mountain night and sing together, whatever collection of songs from their own Time Before brings them the faith of the Time After.
“We sound awful,” That Grand Man says. “But, anyway, we’re singing. And we always sign off with God Bless America.”